Inside Housing | The community taking on homelessness


15 November 2016 7:30 am

The community taking on homelessness

Housing minister Gavin Barwell’s Croydon constituency has a homelessness crisis. Now members of the community are taking matters into their own hands to find a solution. Martin Hilditch reports

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016

CATHY AT 50 200px

It is the wrong side of midnight and the A&E department at Croydon University Hospital is a picture of well-lit gloom.

A handful of patients sit on plastic chairs, silently contemplating the dramas that have brought them here in the depths of the night. Their peace is broken by the entry of a small group of men and women, all wearing identical blue cagoules that proclaim their arrival from the European End Street Homelessness Campaign in big letters on the back. It has been a disappointing night for the volunteers so far. They have been charged with engaging with homeless people on the streets of Croydon as part of a massive project that is the first step of a campaign to end rough sleeping in the London borough.

Thus far, they have traipsed around parks, alleyways and lock-ups, shining torches into dark corners like Croydon’s answer to the Scooby-Doo gang. Despite visiting many of the borough’s well-known rough sleeping ‘hotspots’, after a couple of hours they have little to show for their efforts beyond tired legs. They have popped into the A&E department for a comfort break, but it is about to provide them with a depressing insight into the realities of life on the streets.

Major campaign

Moments after walking through the doors, the group are approached by a young man with an amputated foot, who has come to A&E for treatment.

“I’m homeless,” he says. He is accompanied by a friend, who is also homeless, and has made his own trip to the hospital in recent weeks. “I had pneumonia,” he says. “I had three blood transfusions.”

I was genuinely shocked by some of the data – really, really shocked. It should be a wakeup call to the citizens of Croydon.”

Lee Buss, director of operations, Evolve Housing + Support

They strike up a conversation with Deborah Ives, head of operations at homelessness charity Evolve Housing + Support, who is leading the team tonight. Elsewhere, a young woman who says she was homeless up until a couple of weeks ago approaches and has a chat with one of the volunteers, Mary Blamires. She is concerned society tends to think all homeless people are alcoholics. “She said: ‘I just wanted to let you know we are not’,” Ms Blamires reports afterwards.

It is all a powerful reminder that when housing professionals talk about the strain and cost that housing problems place on other services, or when homelessness professionals discuss tri-morbidity (the combination of mental and physical ill health and drug or alcohol misuse), this is the back story. To put it another way, if you are looking to find rough sleepers, an A&

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016
A&E department in the middle of the night is a very good place to start.

The group is part of a bigger picture, however. Tonight, Croydon’s streets are covered with a patchwork quilt of volunteers. Their work is the start of the CR Zero 2020 campaign, which is led by Evolve, Crisis, Expert Link, Homeless Link and Thames Reach, to end rough sleeping in the borough. This sprang out of a wider European End Street Homelessness Campaign, which is being developed by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) and FEANTSA, the European network of organisations working with homeless people.

The Croydon project’s ambition is clear. But what learning has it picked up already? And can it really succeed in eradicating rough sleeping?

Fast forward a few days, and some of the answers start to emerge. Over the course of the week, groups of volunteers speak to street homeless people in Croydon and get them to complete in-depth questionnaires. The aim is to build up the most detailed picture ever of the men and women living on the borough’s streets, which contain the eighth-highest number of people sleeping rough in the UK.

People sleeping rough on our streets is probably the most visible indicator of the profound housing problems we have got in this country that it is my job to try to tackle.

Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon and housing minister

On a Saturday morning, just days after the last group of volunteers reports back, the information contained on the questionnaires has been analysed and the initial findings are to be presented to members of the Croydon community, including constituency MP and housing minister, Gavin Barwell.

The volunteers engaged with 64 homeless people over the course of the week (more than the 53 people recorded in the last street count); 42 of them completed a survey. Straight away, it is obvious the A&E department the volunteers visited earlier in the week has been a familiar destination for many of Croydon’s rough sleepers. In fact, half of the rough sleepers who completed a questionnaire had been in an A&E department in the past six months.

Collectively, there had been 53 attendances to A&E departments in that time, with 19 separate occasions in which people had been taken in by ambulance. There were a further 23 cases in which people had been in hospital as an in-patient.

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016
Filling in a questionnaire

Grim events

The rest of the statistics make pretty grim reading, too. More than half of the respondents said they had been attacked or beaten up while on the streets. Weeks after this meeting, the Croydon Advertiser reported the story of a homeless man who has disappeared after a gang of “laughing thugs” attacked him in a doorway and set his belongings on fire.

And there are hundreds of other statistics, each with their own depressing back stories. Two of the six women who filled out forms were pregnant, 60% of the respondents had not been in permanent or sustainable housing for six months or more and 70% said there were no activities in their life that made them feel happy and fulfilled other than just surviving. Lee Buss, director of operations at Evolve Housing + Support, admits: “I was genuinely shocked by some of the data – really, really shocked. It should be a wakeup call to the citizens of Croydon.”

What of Mr Barwell, who says he has hotfooted it to the morning’s event “from my surgery, dealing with a number of housing issues”?

We are asking the entire community to work together to find a solution to chronic rough sleeping on the streets of Croydon.

Lee Buss, director of operations, Evolve Housing + Support

Croydon’s MP is certainly not shying away from the problem. “People sleeping rough on our streets is probably the most visible indicator of the profound housing problems we have got in this country that it is my job to try to tackle,” he tells the audience. He later adds: “I look forward to hearing what I can do, what the council can do and what the community can do to solve this great moral stain on our times.” He promises to resource any potential new responsibilities placed on councils as a result of the forthcoming Homelessness Reduction Bill.

The members of the Croydon community in attendance are not here to demand solutions from the housing minister, however. Instead, the aim is for local people, charities and businesses to take matters into their own hands.

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016

Collective effort

“We are asking the entire community to work together to find a solution to chronic rough sleeping on the streets of Croydon,” Mr Buss explains. “Now we have the information, we need to do something with it. Croydon has the answers. I don’t mean Croydon the local authority – although they play a vital role. I mean us, everyone in this room.”

The next step is to form a “community solutions” focus group, whereby local people and organisations will work together to develop answers. This could involve asking existing services to work differently or developing new services or methods.

Only a few weeks later, Inside Housing drops in on the initial meeting of the group in a community centre. Members of local homelessness charities and drop-in centres have turned up, alongside local residents and council staff. Mark McPherson, director of strategy, partnership and innovation at Homeless Link and who is chairing, states that the purpose of the group is to “understand why people live on the streets”, “identify the things that stop them getting off the streets” and “find solutions”.

It might be that we don’t get some of those people in the room… But we can come up with an ask for them.”

Mark McPherson, director of strategy, partnership and innovation, Homeless Link

The group begins by working in teams to identify points of contact and sources of help for homeless people in the borough. A chart of faith groups, night shelters and drop-in centres emerges. Over the next few weeks the information will be pulled together into a “systems map”. The next step will be to pinpoint barriers in the system and “who do we have to influence to remove them”.

“It might be that we don’t get some of those people in the room,” Mr McPherson says. “But we can come up with an ask for them.” He reminds the attendees that all solutions have to be “about housing” – “the solutions must mean they are no longer living on the streets”.

It is early days yet, but the mood in the room is optimistic. Rough sleeping might be on the rise nationally, but the group here today are determined they can reverse the trend and, indeed, eradicate it in Croydon by 2020. So far they have attracted more than 100 volunteers, had the ear of the housing minister and collected more detail about the borough’s homeless population than anyone before. They are likely to have plenty of learning to pass on to the housing sector – and do not bet against them achieving the seemingly impossible while they are at it.

Campaign origins

The work in Croydon to end homelessness can trace its roots back to the 100,000 Homes campaign in the USA.

This was a national grassroots movement working to find and permanently house 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless people in the nation – with communities taking the lead. It won a World Habitat Award, organised by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), in 2013.

David Ireland, director of the BSHF, says after the award win “there was a real interest in seeing if we could use some of the methods and adapt them into Europe”. This led to the birth of the European End Street Homelessness Campaign, co-ordinated by BSHF. Identical questionnaires have been filled out by homeless people in various cities, such as Barcelona and Valencia, and Croydon is the latest area to launch its own campaign.

Inside Housing | Helping the homeless



14 November 2016

Helping the homeless


A few hours after deciding to write about homelessness in this blog, my friend, Trevor Smith, said this to me: “Homelessness is centre stage in the induction programme I am designing. If new entrants to the housing sector don’t ‘get’ homelessness, they won’t understand what we’re about.”

Trevor runs the support programme for the Centre for Partnership’s GEM (Graduate Employment and Mentoring) Programme. His comment started me thinking about the extent to which homelessness – and finding solutions for it – remains at the heart of what we do or whether, at times, we forget about it in the rush to keep step with the government’s latest housing initiative (I understand that it’s ‘buy as you go’ this week).

I touch base regularly with Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. Two years ago we were discussing how homelessness was increasing, and that measures such as the overall benefits cap would only make it worse. He said he thought that the pendulum would swing back by 2017. The fantastic work that he and the Crisis team have done to promote the Homelessness Reduction Bill is a strong indicator that he got it right. Two or three years ago the government was so busy weakening the safety net for homeless people it would have been inconceivable that such a measure could have succeeded. Now the bill, which was taken forward by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, has the support of the Communities and Local Government, local authorities and, we hope, parliament. That is an astonishing result.

We also have a housing minister who is bothered about homelessness. He says he is, and I choose to believe him. Recently he stated that “solving our housing crisis is a moral priority”. Homelessness is back on the radar.

There is the fantastic work that David Bogle and the Homes for Cathy group are doing which will be showcased in parliament in February, and which has spawned a myriad of national and regional events. South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) showed the original Cathy Come Home at our local independent cinema last week, and it was followed by a panel debate which included the housing lead on the local council, a homelessness agency and a young woman who had experienced homelessness. Next week we are reprising this as part of a programme for local schools. Then, in a couple of months, the brilliant Cardboard Citizens theatre company (which includes homeless actors) is coming to the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, with an updated version of Cathy. The Homes for Cathy group of associations are also sponsoring Inside Housing’s competition for young filmmakers to produce a ‘Cathy’ for the 21st century.

So what else are associations doing? There are the obvious answers such as increasing housing supply (40% of all new homes last year, for example), working hard to sustain existing tenancies and working closely with local authorities to support their homeless strategies. The two performance indicators I look for first at SYHA are the number of tenants we have evicted and the proportion of new tenants who have been homeless or at risk.

There is another dimension to this – the way in which we work with our tenants as individuals. Every time we intervene to support one of our customers into a training or employment programme, we take them one step further away from homelessness. Every intervention to support someone’s health, well-being and self-esteem does the same. Placeshapers associations do loads of this stuff.  Its We Work programme is a great showcase for the tens of thousands of people who have been supported in this way. Immediate examples at SYHA include our arts programme, Moments of Joy, and our Ageing Better project which tackles loneliness and isolation.

I have tried – and failed – to track the origin of the much-quoted statement that any one of us is only two bad decisions away from homelessness. If we are better connected, better informed and better supported, we will be less likely to make these mistakes.

At the end of every meeting our board assesses the decisions we have just taken against our risk framework. We think about how each decision has affected our risk profile, risk appetite etc. A lot of associations do this. Perhaps we should also be thinking about the impact of our decisions on homelessness in the same way. To what extent are the decisions we take on, for example, new developments, tenure, or sales strategies likely to improve or damage prospects for homelessness locally? Like those GEM graduates, we need to ensure we still ‘get’ it.

Tony Stacey, chief executive, South Yorkshire Housing Association

Crisis | Homelessness Reduction Bill passes crucial Second Reading

Hi Paul,

As a Crisis campaigner, I wanted you to be among the first to know that the Homelessness Reduction Bill has passed its crucial second reading in the House of Commons today. A huge number of MPs turned up to support the Bill and it was passed without opposition.

We’re hugely grateful for all the time and passion that thousands of campaigners like you have put into getting the bill this far. The fact that so many MPs were in the chamber for the debate is a direct result of the emails and meetings that have shown our representatives how passionately we care about ending homelessness.

We’ve got the momentum and the cross-party consensus. But this is no time for complacency. There’s still a lot of work needed to get this bill through parliament and to make sure any new law really works for homeless people. So we’ll need your help again. 

But right now we can feel proud that, against the odds, we’re a big step closer to stopping homeless people getting turned away when they ask for help.

Have a good weekend,

Campaigns Manager

PS. We’re not going to ask you to do any more campaigning right now, but if you’re feeling inspired to do more for homeless people you can donate to our life-changing services and campaigning.

Crisis Impact Report: Homelessness ends here

Crisis | The Second Reading of the Homelessness Reduction Bill: What’s all the fuss about?

Crisis logo


27 October 2016

The Crisis Blog logo

The Second Reading of the Homelessness Reduction Bill: What’s all the fuss about?

by Helena Brice,  Public Affairs Officer

You may have noticed over the past couple of months that we here at Crisis have been getting increasingly excited about the ‘Second Reading’ of the Homelessness Reduction Bill on 28 October but you may not know why.

It involves some rather arcane parliamentary processes, but could have a huge impact on homelessness in England. So here’s an explainer:

What’s the problem?

In England if you don’t have dependent children or you can’t prove that you are particularly vulnerable then your local authority has no legal obligation to offer you meaningful help.

Just imagine. You’ve lost your home. You’ve worn out the welcome on the sofas of family or friends so, in desperation, you go to your council for help. You tell them that tonight you will literally be sleeping on a park bench if you don’t get help. But even then you are turned away, sent back out the door to sleep on the streets, cold, lonely and forgotten.

What does the Homelessness Reduction Bill do about that?

If passed, it will give councils a legal duty to give people meaningful support to resolve their homelessness. It will introduce measures to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. If it survives its passage through parliament it will undoubtedly be one of the most important developments for homelessness in 40 years.

You say ‘if passed’… does that mean it could fail?

Yes. This Friday 28 October the fate of the Homelessness Reduction Bill hangs in the balance. It is a Private Member’s Bill which was brought forwards by MP Bob Blackman. As such it can be easily blocked or ‘talked out’ as it receives its Second Reading in Parliament this Friday.

(We’ve seen this happen recently with the Turing Bill and the Revenge Evictions Bill, both of which were Private Members’ Bills that were talked out)

…so we find out if the bill lives or dies at this Second Reading you keep tweeting about?

For now. The Second Reading is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the Bill. In order for a Bill to get past Second Reading the sponsor of the bill, in this case Bob Blackman, must secure the closure of the debate (which basically means getting MPs to stop talking).

For a closure motion to succeed in favour of the bill there must be at least 100 supportive MPs present. If there were 98 who supported and 2 who opposed, the Bill would fail. Hence we have been asking you to email your MPs asking them to turn up and support it. (and a huge thank you to the thousands of you that have done so).

However if no one opposes the bill the Chair puts the question on second reading (that is that people agree the bill passes its second reading), collects the ‘voices’ (essentially how many people say ‘Ayes’ and how many say ‘No’) and if it’s too close to call they call a division. For a division to pass in our favour the ‘Aye’ must be in the majority with more than 40 Members participating.

What if the bill fails?

We will have missed a precious opportunity to change the homelessness legislation and will be relying on the government’s good will to take it on and bring it forward as their own bill. In order for this to happen the government would have to announce it in the Queen’s speech (which didn’t happen this year round) or tag it on to another Bill, however no Bills have yet been put forward that it could be tagged on to.

And if it gets through?

If the bill gets through the Second Reading that is a massive hurdle overcome. But there is still a long way to go before it gets enshrined in the law. The bill then has to go through public bill committee, report stage, third reading and then the Lords.

Is there anything I can do to help?

Yes. Visit our No One Turned Away campaign page to find out how you can join the thousands of campaigners who have helped us to get the Homelessness Reduction Bill this far.

Private Eye | The Homelessness Reduction Bill

Private Eye logo



No.1430 | 28 Oct – 10 Nov 2016

Campaigners are cautiously optimistic that a Private Member’s Bill to improve the safety net for homeless people will pass its first Parliamentary hurdle on Friday [28 October 2016].

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, put forward by Conservative MP Bob Blackman with the support of the all-party Communities and Local Government Committee and the homelessness charity Crisis, is modelled on legislation already introduced in Wales.

It would  introduce new duties to prevent and relieve homelessness, in particular by helping single homeless people currently being turned away by councils because they are not in ‘priority need”.

Two immediate tests confront the Bill when it comes to a Second Reading.

First,more than 100 MPs must turn up and vote on a Friday to prevent individual members from talking it out. That effort got a boost when Jeremy Corbyn wrote to his Labour MPs encouraging them to attend.

Second, only backing from the Government can secure enough Parliamentary time to eventually bring the Bill into law. So far, Ministers have made positive noises, but no commitments.

The larger question, though, is whether homelessness will keep rising faster than any legislation can prevent it. Demand for housing is increasing rents even as cuts to Housing Benefit reduce the ability to pay them. More cuts are still in the pipeline, starting with a reduction in the Overall Benefit Cap from 06 November. This will leave tenants in expensive areas and in larger homes across the country with worsening rent shortfalls to be paid from benefits that are frozen until 2020.

Although the homelessness prevention legislation in Wales seems to be working well, that is in the context of a very different attitude to genuinely affordable housing. Whereas Wales is still building social housing and is about to abolish Right to Buy, England stopped funding it in 2010, increased Right to Buy discounts and is about to force councils to sell their higher-value homes as they fall vacant.

Priority Pass | Scene & Heard by David Ziggy Greene [Private Eye No.1430]


Crisis | Government backs the Homelessness Reduction Bill, but we’re not over the finishing line yet

Crisis logo

The Crisis Blog logo

Government backs the Homelessness Reduction Bill, but we’re not over the finishing line yet

by Bob Blackman MP

Today marks a huge step forward for my Private Member’s Bill – due to be debated this Friday 28 October – with the government announcing its support for the bill. The Homelessness Reduction Bill offers a very real opportunity to offer meaningful support to people shut out of the current system and to place a new duty on councils to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.

Even with government backing, there’s no guarantee that the bill will be carried on Friday and it’s absolutely vital that at least 100 MPs turn up to the debate and vote in favour of the bill to carry it through this first hurdle.

Parliamentary business can be a thorny and difficult process to navigate. This is especially the case when it comes to Private Members’ Bills, as they’re allocated very little time and debates are always scheduled on a Friday when most MPs are away from Westminster in order to spend time working in their constituencies. The odds are stacked against them ever making it past their first debate and, as we saw just last week with the failure John Nicolson MP’s ‘Turing Bill’ to pass, you can never be sure of what will happen.

I would argue that the Homelessness Reduction Bill is somewhat unique as Private Member’s Bills go. As a member of the cross-party Communities and Local Government Select Committee, I took the opportunity to utilise the committee’s recent report on homelessness and to tie that into the creation of my bill. Clive Betts, the Chair, also kindly agreed to have the committee conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill and I revised the original draft of the bill in response to the committee’s recommendations. There are no direct precedents for this.

Now that the bill has been given government backing, I’m hugely grateful to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, and the Local Government Minister, Marcus Jones, in particular, for seizing this historic opportunity to tackle homelessness. This is obviously very helpful in terms of getting this legislation onto the books, but it’s important to say that it’s not just about getting Government support. I want to ensure that Members from all sides of the House back this bill and I’ll be spending the next few days rallying more MPs to commit to voting in favour on Friday.

So to colleagues who may be reading this, now is the time to make your commitment to helping those faced with homelessness clear. If you’re a constituent, it’s not too late to contact your MP to let them know that their vote on Friday could still make the difference between this bill succeeding or failing.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to radically improve the way we tackle homelessness in England and there is no room for complacency.

Crisis | Government will support Homelessness Reduction Bill

Crisis logo


This afternoon, Secretary of State Sajid Javid confirmed that the Government will support the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

As you will know, the bill aims to end the injustice of homeless people being turned away with little or no help by their local council because they are not considered a “priority” under the law.

This is great news. But because it’s a “Private Member’s Bill”, not government legislation, the Bill remains very vulnerable. Unless at least 100 MPs turn up to back the bill then just one opponent can block it and we could miss this historic opportunity for change.

This follows years of campaigning by tens of thousands of people like you – but now it’s vital we keep up the momentum and don’t get complacent.  

I know you have already contacted your MP but can you help us share the news – and ask your friends to make sure that their MP attends the debate?


Campaigns Manager

PS If you don’t use social media, please forward this email to 5 friends with a note explaining why you think they should back the bill